Cover Prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

 

On the Oceans of Eternity

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>

 


CHAPTER FOUR:

 

Ersibekar artakerka akoltistautenkar eribekau
Uortakerkar burlterkar saldulakogiar saldulakogiau --

 

"Lord King, the embassy of Meizon Akhaia requests audience," the court messenger said.

Isketerol of Tartessos broke off the silent prayer in his mind. He lowered his arms and turned away from the edge of the palace rooftop, scowling at the messenger. Beyond him the Greek herald bowed in his sea-stained tunic and fringed kilt, a tall brown-haired young man with a warrior's supple strength, looking around with bright-eyed interest despite the haste that had brought him up from the docks without pause, and his ships all the way across the Middle Sea from Great Achaea to Iberia. He went to one knee for a moment, then stood and met the Tartessian ruler's eyes:

"Rejoice, my lord King. I am Telemakhos son of Odikweos, who is wannax in Ithaka and ekwetos to the King of Men in Mycenae," he said. "My father brings the word of your blood-brother the High Wannax William Walker to you, and will take your word to the King of Men."

"Rejoice, Prince," Isketerol of Tartessos said in fair if accented Greek. "My guest-friend King Odikweos is always welcome at my hearth, but the embassy of Great Achaea must wait on the Gods of the land. This is the day when the King weds the Lady of Tartessos."

"My father honors the Gods of his guest-friend, and the High Wannax honors the Gods of his blood brother," Telemakhos said, bowing again. "The embassy will await the king's word."

Isketerol nodded regally. In truth, I doubt that William greatly honors any gods at all. The thought was frightening even to a man as well-traveled as the King, but William Walker hadn't suffered any ill-luck from his lack of piety. Quite the contrary, in fact. Although, to be sure, he certainly gave a convincing appearance of piety, and who knew if the Gods cared what a man thought in his heart? With an effort, he cleared his mind of such matters; even of the fear of the Nantucketer attack both spies and his own mind told him was building on the other side of the River Ocean, looming over his folk like an avalanche of anvils. Today was for the Gods.

"Come. My people await me."

The procession formed in the main courtyard of the New Palace as the sun sank westward. Despite that location the rite was in the manner made sacred by long custom, lest the Lady be offended by breech of ancient ways. The King came first, in a simple kilt of soft-tanned goatskin, but glittering with the metal that was the tears of the Sun -- a round crown of sheet gold embossed with studs about his brows and set with tall feather plumes, pectorals of gold shaped like miniature oxhides over his chest, a necklace of gold disks around his neck, a belt of worked gold plates making a broad band about his stomach.

"Behold the Sun Lord!" cried the Lady's Lady -- by tradition the senior wife of the King was high priestess of the City's patron goddess. She stood in a long blue robe hung with silver and turquoise, her sleek raven hair braided and bound in two disks on either side of her head. "Behold the Sun Lord, come to do honor to the Lady of Tartessos!"

"Behold him!" cried the crowd around the colonnaded court; his other wives, his children, wisemen, war-captains, their families and retainers...

Their finery was a shout of color, saffron and indigo and cochineal-crimson, sparkling with silver and turquoise, polished steel and bronze. The uniformed Royal Guards who kept a corridor open for him to the gates snapped to attention and brought their flintlock rifles to present-arms.

Isketerol nodded slightly. The gates swung back, and the roar of the crowd beyond struck him like a blow to the face, along with the scent of sweat and flowers and wine, garlic and olive oil and hot stone. More soldiers lined the route ahead, facing away with rifles held level before them, pushing against the surging crowd; it was the greatest of good luck to touch the King on such a day. That had been possible before Isketerol seized the throne from his distant kinsman and began the changes, for Tartessos had been smaller then. What was left of Old Town lay southward, to his left, in a tangle of little thatched mud-brick houses across the bottom slopes of the hills. There he had managed to touch the King's heel himself once, so long ago.

Not so long ago, he thought stoutly, stepping forward. And it did bring me luck!

The Lady's Lady paced on his left, and the others of the royal household took their places behind -- the family, the retainers, the great carved and painted and gilded carts with their images of the Grain Goddess and Arucuttag of the Sea, and their attendant priests and priestesses, that the others of the Great Gods might witness this rite. There was no need for an image of the Crone, of course -- She was present everywhere, ubiquitous as shadow, for wherever life went, there Death was also. Musicians beat on drums, plucked harps, played bone flutes, sounded bronze trumpets in peal after peal of sound; warriors followed in the panoply of his youth, bronze disks over their chests secured by leather cross-belts, helmets of sinew sewn with bronze scales, sword and spear and bow. Attendants behind flung handfuls of dried figs, raisins and olives to the crowd, symbols of luck and abundance. A chorus of girls in white robes, virgins of the best families in the kingdom, came behind them singing of the land's longing for the Lady's return with cool winds and fruitful rain after the dry death of summer. Their hands had woven the rich gown his priestess-wife wore, the sacred dedication of their last year of maidenhood.   

He'd hidden behind the Year-Maidens, when he was a boy, then rushed forward to touch the King and gotten rapped with a spearshaft for his pains...

Not so long ago. I'm not forty winters yet. A young forty winters, only a few strands of gray in his bowl-cut hair, and all his teeth still sound. For the rest the King was a man of the type common here in southern Iberia, olive-skinned, black of hair and eye, of medium height, slender and lithe and quick-moving. His shoulders were broad for his height, his arms strongly muscled, his hands bearing a sailor's callus from rope and steering-oar, spear and sword.

The road under his feet was part of the New City, broad and straight and covered in asphalt, with sidewalks of brick on either side, flanked by buildings of two and even three stories. Many of them were built of pale-rose sandstone barged down the Rainbow River, and those of adobe brick were whitewashed to brilliance; both had sloped roofs of fine red tile, some with doorways of fanciful wrought iron or cast bronze fretwork opening onto interior courts where fountains played. Isketerol's heart swelled with pride at the sight, at the wealth and might and knowledge he had brought to his native city. More Tartessians crowded the windows and balconies, dressed in their best, wreaths in their hair, throwing flowers and handfuls of grain before his feet.

"The King lives! The King lives!" they shouted. "Seed the field! Seed the field! The King lives!"

Isketerol came at last to a special ramp built downward into the water of the river; Tartessos stood on a triangle of land where two streams met after their long journey southward from the mountains. Here he looked out over a broad bay, intensely blue beneath the late summer sun, over to green marshes where birds rose ten-thousand-fold to add the thunder of their wings to the thunder of voices from behind him. The wharves and city walls and shore were black with his folk; a silence fell on them as the King removed his ornaments and flung them one by one out into the waters.

"Oh Lady of Tartessos, giver of life, You who are the rain and the river and the soft autumn fields that welcome the plow, receive my gifts! By my gifts, know that the King and Your People remain loyal unto You!"

Beside him the Lady's Lady did the same, murmuring her own invocation -- that was not a thing for men's ears -- until they stood naked side by side. Then they waded out, amid the flowers floating on the waters, and swam to a raft anchored some fifty feet beyond. Isketerol turned to the south, towards the place where the fresh water met the salt on the edge of sight. Boats bobbed and dashed about, the sunset ruddy on their sails, turning the foam at their bows to blood-color as well; a few lights already starred masthead and bowsprit in the falling dusk.

"Oh Arucuttag of the Sea," he prayed, raising his arms high and hands palm outward in the gesture of reverence. "Hungry One, Lord of Waves, Storm Lord, remember my gifts unto You." Those had been made yesterday, beyond sight of land -- gold, and the blood of a strong young warrior. "Remember, and grudge not that Your sister comes to wed with me, for the renewal of the land. Whelm not our ships with Your anger, but give us swift voyaging and good winds, full nets and victory. Wait in patience until the grain grows gold, when She shall return unto You and Her sister of the ripened corn rule the summer."

He turned, and his wife did as well to face him. This once in all the year he went to his knees before her, because this was not only the mother of his sons but the Lady Herself come in the flesh for this hour. Again he raised his hands in the attitude of prayer.

"Oh Lady of Tartessos," he called. It was as if Someone else spoke through his lips; now he was the Sun Lord. "You have been in your brother's hall all the long summer while the land grew dry. My longing has called the grain from the moist soil and given it My gold, and I have lain with Your sister to bring forth the harvest for the reapers. Yet You came not, and now the dry land perishes for Your rain, that the grain may be sown once more. Without you, My light cannot make the Grain Goddess' earth fruitful. Do You hide your face in anger from Your people? Do You come from your brother's sea in anger, with the waves of the salt flood?"

"No!" she called. "The Lady comes again in love, bringing the rain that gives Her people life, swelling the rivers as a mother's breasts swell with milk. Come to me, Sun Lord, as the Sun sinks beneath the River, and together we will bring rain and cloud, sowing and reaping!"

She sank gracefully to the heaped wool blankets, opening arms and legs to him. Then he felt he was one of the kingly stallions that drew the Sun Lord's chariot daily across the sky. The deathly silence broke into cheers as he went in unto her, and cannon roared all along the city walls and from the ships anchored in the harbor, rockets flaring up to burst in multicolored splendor overhead.

@@@

The fall weather of the Year Ten had cleared, down near the reaches where the Severn gave into the Bristol Channel. The day was bright, brisk, a chill wind whipping the blood into your face; the coal-smoke from the steamboat's stack tattered away south and west, losing itself over smargadine waters and white-crested waves. She and Swindapa both stood on the deckhouse that spanned the curved boxes that held the vessel's paddle-wheels, behind opened windows. Froth churned white behind them, surging against the first of the train of four barges on their tows behind. The craft's blunt bows sledged their way into the waves, and spray on her lips tasted of salt now. There was a new roll and swing to the craft's movement, infinitely familiar, paradoxically reassuring with its hint of accustomed danger. Now and then water would show green over shallows, or growl and throw spray skyward from a rock. The captain of the tug stood beside the wheel, a stocky middle-aged man in sweater and sea-boots and the shapeless remains of what had been a peaked yachtsman's cap, scratching in his close-clipped gray-yellow beard now and then and occasionally raising his binoculars. From time to time he gave an order, in English or Fiernan or a mishmash of the two tongues. When he spoke to Marian Alston, it was in a cornhusker Indiana rasp.

"Tricky navigation in these parts, ma'am. We missed the tidal bore you can get around here this time, mostly, thank God, but there's rocks and shifting sandbanks most of the way from here to Westhaven." He looked over his shoulder, down at the water, then unplugged a speaking tube, whistled into it and then shouted in a good-humored bellow:

"More steam, goddamitt! Or I'll come wo'tuHuma ssoWya and fry my bread in your drippings! N'wagHA tobos!"

Wonder how he ended up here? Marian thought. Knows his work, obviously, though. She'd commanded everything from launches to cutters before becoming skipper of the Eagle shortly before the Event, and could tell a kindred set of skills.

"Left two, Cindy," he went on to the young woman at the wheel, then put his hand on it. "Good -- smooth, not too fast, don't try to force it."

"Aye aye, Dad." A chuckle. "And Dad? It wasn't really nice to say you'd stuff them in the furnace."

"You don't have to hire 'em," he said, and rumpled her hair with rough affection. To Marian: "Hard to get stokers, Commodore. Even harder to keep 'em. Black Gang work ain't what you'd call popular."

"Understandable, Captain Bauerman," she replied, clasping her hands behind her back and rising slightly on the balls of her feet. Keeping balance against the movement of the deck was something a life at sea had made wholly automatic.

He grinned, respectful of her rank but not in the least intimidated by it. "Oh, hell, Captain's a little too fancy for a tugboat skipper," he said. "Good to get home, though."

Westhaven was a little west of the site of Bristol in the Twentieth, not far from where the Lower Avon joined the Severn estuary. Or where the Hillwater joins the River of Long Shadows, she thought, with a quirk of her mouth. Lord Jesus, is it... what, nine years now since the Alban War? First landfall near Portsmouth, right after the Event, where she'd rescued Swindapa; then here the following spring to deal with Walker. Pentagon Base, they'd called it, after the shape of the fort they built --

She turned her head and saw Swindapa looking at her, smiling, knew that she was remembering the same days. Lot of water under the bridge, she thought, with a warm lightness that hadn't changed. It always made her want to break out in a silly grin, too...

"Lot of changes," she said aloud instead, nodding towards the land.

The shorline passed, in stretches of reddish sandstone cliff or low salt-marsh; inland were rolling fields and woodland turning to blue hills in the distance. The air was full of wings, raucous gulls following lug-sailed fishing boats, waterfowl from the seaside swamps, sea-eagles; seals in the water and a spray of fish jumping to flee the liquid grace of their rush, a whale spouting not too far away.

I never knew how... empty of life... the Twentieth was, Alston thought, not for the first time. With luck and good management, they'd see that things stayed that way. If we win the war, she thought grimly. I doubt Walker would give a damn. And someone like King Isketerol would operate on a more-where-that-came-from basis.

As they watched one of the deep-ocean ships cast off from the steam tug that had brought it out of Westhaven harbor and hoisted sail -- it was a three-masted schooner, about two hundred tons, a whale among the minnow-tiny coracles and sewn-plank fishing boats around it. Maybe Alban-built, she thought, as it heeled and the sails bellied out into taut beige curves, a white bow-wave surging back from its sharp prow. They knew wood, cloth and rope well enough and could afford to buy what they couldn't make. Certainly mostly Alban-crewed; Fiernans, or at least Fiernans who'd studied with the Grandmothers, picked up the math needed for practical navigation fast enough.

There were changes ashore, too; progress had gone furthest and fastest in this area, near the first and largest of the Islander bases in Alba. A decade ago the land had been strewn with widely-scattered hamlets of round huts, small fields about them worked with hand-hoe and scratch-plow; beyond broad rings of scrubby second growth and rough pasture, used for grazing and occasional cultivation, for edible wild plants and fruits, medicinal herbs and hunting. Now most of the second growth and brush had been cleared, stubblefields and pasture edged with fences or new-planted hawthorn hedges; even the primal wildwood had retreated a bit, though nobody had found it worthwhile to drain much of the vast swamps.

Alston leveled her own binoculars. A puffing steam road-hauler pulled a threshing machine; harvest was well past, the wheat and barley in thatched stacks, and the thresher was on its rounds, doing in a few hours what would take scores of workers all winter with flails. More wagons waited piled with sacks of grain waited beside a dammed stream and its mill, the big wooden wheel turning briskly under the white water pouring from the sluice. That represented about a thousand women who didn't have to spend three hours every morning kneeling to grind their families' daily grain on a metate-like arrangement of two stones.     Among the Sun People further east grain-grinding had been the primary work of slave-women, that and carrying buckets of water on a yoke across the shoulders, and gathering firewood. The Earth Folk had been more humane about distributing the toil, but it still meant endless hours of backbreaking monotony for somebody.

"Many changes," Swindapa said, leaning her elbows on the edge of the window before them. The breeze of their passage cuffed locks of wheat-colored hair backwards around her tanned face, and she squinted into the wind. Fine lines appeared beside her eyes as she did, the beginning of the sailors' wrinkles that were more deeply grooved in Marian's skin.

Lord, 'dapa's going on thirty now, Marian thought with a sudden shock. One reason she'd resisted the younger woman's determined attempts at seduction back on the Island those first few months had been the difference in their ages.

Well, nobody can accuse me of cradle-robbing any more. Now we've gotten so married we can answer each other's thoughts before we speak 'em.

"Are you happy about what's changed?" the black woman asked.

Swindapa turned her head and smiled. "Oh, mostly, bin'HOtse-khwon," she said, and nodded towards the shore. "Some of the Earth Folk grumble, not most. Who'd watch their children die, when they didn't have to? Half did, in the old days. And we have peace, at least in our own land."

"Mmmmm-hmmm, I've heard complaints about everything being done the Eagle People way."

"Bread together," Swindapa said, and at her raised brows went on: "Haven't I told you that saying? Well, you take flour and water and yeast -- none of them rules the others, and together they make the bread. Together we're making something new, and the Fiernan Boholugi are the yeast, I think."

If we win this war, Marian thought; and knew from the shadow in the other's eyes that she had seen that thought, too.

@@@

"Odikweos, my friend, it is good to see you," Isketerol said.

His part in the autumn rites was done for now, with the Sacred Wedding. He had bathed, dressed himself in a saffron-yellow tunic trimmed with purple dye of Ugarit, thought carefully and consulted a few advisors. He clasped hands with the other man in the Amurrukan fashion that Walker had made common in Great Achaea, then received a kiss on the cheek as from a near-equal; the other man was a ruler himself, after all, if also a vassal of the King of Men in Mycenae. This was not the first time he'd come to Tartessos as envoy and negotiator.

"You are well, and your women and children, your flocks and fields, all those beneath your rooftree?"

They exchanged the necessary courtesies, while outside bonfires and torches and kerosene street-lamps made the streets nearly as bright as day for the festival that would continue for three days and nights. Here in the upper chamber the lamps were also bright, bringing out the murals of dolphins and squid and bright birds that rioted in crimson and umber and blue against the green background. That was a subtle complement to the Achaean under-king, for artists from Mycenae had made them, sent with many other craftsmen as part of the alliance between Walker and his blood-brother. The ebony table with its inlay of ivory and faience had been made in Pi-Ramses beside the Nile; it showed that Tartessians had long fared widely. Besides native dishes of tunny baked with goat-cheese and squid fried in garlic-laden olive oil, the golden dishes bore chickens on spits, roast potatoes, salads that included such exotics as tomatoes and avocados; there was chocolate cake for dessert. The foreign delicacies from west over the River Ocean were a reminder that like Great Achaea, Tartessos also commanded the New Learning. The air smelled of the good food, of fresh bread, wine, perfumed resin that sent tendrils up from worked bronze stands, and of the jasmine that grew in stone troughs by the windows. Cool evening air bore a reminder that summer was past and awoke appetite.

The Greek poured wine -- they dined without servants within earshot, for their talk was of statecraft -- and added water to his cup. Isketerol winced slightly; that was no way to treat a fine mountain vintage.

Oh, well, to each land its customs.

"That was a fine sacrifice you made," Odikweos said, smiling and showing strong white teeth.

He was no taller than the Iberian king and of much the same years, his hair black with reddish glints and his eyes hazel, but more broad-built, his arms and legs thick with knotted muscle, battle scars running white under heavy body hair.

"The King is the land," he went on. "We have a similar rite to Gamater on Ithaka."

Isketerol nodded noncommittally; he knew Achaeans tended to assume that any foreign deity they met must be much the same as the one of theirs He or She resembled. Himself, he felt that was... what was the Achaean word? Hubris?

"The Gods send luck," he said. "It's up to us to seize it." They both poured a small libation into bowls left on the floor for that purpose and the King continued: "In the time of my grandfather's grandfather, legend has it that if the King could not raise a stand to plow the Lady's Lady, she sacrificed him there and then to bring the rain -- spilling his blood rather than his man-seed in offering," he said. "That was a favorite jest of the Jester."

Isketerol nodded to a grinning clay statue of the Jester at the foot of the table and tossed a pinch of sweet-smelling resin onto the coals that smoldered in a bowl before it, giving the Lady's favorite son His due. The smoke rose in a blue coil, hiding the disquieting smile. As the saying went, the Jester slew men as boys threw stones at frogs, for sport... but frogs and men both died in earnest.

Odikweos shuddered. "The thought alone would be enough to make a prick of bronze go limp!"

Isketerol chuckled. "And in ages before that, the King was always sacrificed for the autumn rains; some of the inland villages still give the fields a man every year."

"I've seen much like that in Sicily, after we brought it under Great Achaea and I was made viceroy," Odikweos said.

Isketerol nodded; he'd watched that conquest carefully seven years ago, since Sicily was half the distance across the Middle Sea from the Achaean lands to Tartessos. He'd been greatly shocked at how little time it took the Achaeans under Walker to overrun the huge island, and a little shocked at the methods William used to pacify it; the Eagle People, the Amurrukan of Nantucket, had struck him as a soft lot, in the months he'd lived among them. But William was a hard man, and no mistake...

He plunged his fork into the tunny, savoring a mouthful. "Ten years ago, when William and I made war in the White Isle, I remember pledging gold to the gods for a taste of tunny with cheese, or olives, or a salad... or anything besides boiled meat and black bread," he said.

His face grew grave. "Now we make war again, and against the same foe -- Nantucket."

"May the gods grant a better outcome this time, for Tartessos and Great Achaea," the Greek said, and poured another libation. "Nantucket stands between both of our realms and the desires of our hearts."

Isketerol joined him in the gesture of sacrifice -- it could not hurt -- and waited in silence. Back then he'd been a mere merchant and of a house richer in honor than goods or power, adventuring in the northlands in hope of profit. It was there he'd met William...

"My High King has heard of the repulse of your attack on Nantucket," Odikweos said gravely. "He grieves with his blood-brother."

Isketerol nodded. And I can believe as much of that as I wish, he thought. The Republic of Nantucket was enemy to Tartessos and to William Walker King of Men as well, but if his attack had succeeded he would have possessed its unfathomable secrets. He and the High Wannax had been allies, blood brothers, and friends of a sort for a good ten years now, since they met on Alba. That didn't mean either trusted the other overmuch. After all, Walker had begun his climb to power by betraying his superiors and his oaths to them...

"How will the High Wannax show his grief?" Isketerol asked pointedly. "I could use more boring machines, and help with the converter to make steel. If the Islanders attack, I will need better artillery."

He glowered a little at that; it had been his spies in Nantucket who told him of the manganese that was necessary if the steel was to be good and not a spongy mass of air-holes, not his blood-brother in Mycenae.

Back on Nantucket William had bought his help with promise of the great ship Yare and half its cargo of treasures -- books and tools and machinery that the Islanders had put aboard to establish a base of their own in Alba. He'd helped William to pirate it; stood at his side while he conquered a kingdom in Alba with it; stayed at his side when the Nantucketers broke him, and carried his fugitive band to Greece. At first it seemed that Isketerol had had the better of the deal. Walker had helped put him on the throne of Tartessos with his gunpowder bombs and those first few cannon they'd cast in Alba, and the deadly Garand rifle. He'd made no dispute over division of the cargo. There Isketerol was, King of his native city; and William only a foreign mercenary at Agamemnon's court, leader of nothing but his little band of Islander renegades and Alban warriors. It was only in the years that followed that he realized how much knowledge was not in the books he'd learned to read, but in the heads of that score of men... not only skills, but a universe of wisdom that enabled them to understand things in the books which Isketerol must puzzle out by himself.

He clenched a fist. It was the Jester's gift that I met Rosita on Nantucket. He'd brought her along only because he'd sworn to, and then she'd turned out to be invaluable. Her, and a scant handful of other Amurrukan he'd lured here over the years with bribes of silver and land and high rank. Bitter it was, to realize that a common laborer of the Eagle People commanded knowledge so priceless that he must make them nobles here...

Odikweos inclined his head, and Isketerol made a similar gesture in acknowledgement. William had selected his envoy well; this one's face showed nothing but what he intended. He changed the subject smoothly, giving news of the Nantucketers who were active in Babylon and among the Hittites, and Great Achaea's war with Troy.

"I think that the High King's gifts will make his brother glad," he said at last, when the servitors had cleared the table and withdrawn.

"Then let us go and see them," Isketerol said.

"Now?"

"What better time?

There are few enough seasons when the King could walk through the streets of Tartessos the City without ceremony and too many prying eyes - and although the Republic's embassy had left when war was declared, there would be eyes of theirs remaining. Probably with radios to report; the tiny but immensely powerful type they called solid-state.

Cloaks with hoods provided concealment, and more went masked than not on this day of festival; they took only a brace of guards each. Carnival rioted through the streets about them, masks and costumes from old story or modern fancy. Here two danced in the skin of a giant bear, or a gold-tusked boar-mask topped a naked body that capered and squealed, or deer-antlered men sported with women decked out in sheaves of wheat and little else; there a mock-Pharaoh paced, his kilt of Egyptian linen showing the waggling of a giant leather phallus, beside a would-be northern barbarian in shaggy furs, tow-flax wig and bronze axe; poetry and bawdy song echoed from walls; tables were set out with jugs of wine and rich food from the King's storehouses and those of wealthy nobles and merchants who wished to win the Lady's favor; everywhere men and women coupled, serving the Lady through Her act of generation. On these three days all the usual barriers were lowered.

"Plenty of children, next spring," Odikweos chuckled. "I don't doubt my men on shore leave are having a good time."

Isketerol nodded. "We seed our women, as the Sun Lord seeds the moist earth of the Lady. Such births are called god-children, and a foreigner brings double luck."

The guards at the entrance to the military docks were on duty and alert, though; they brought their rifles up, then stiffened as they recognized Isketerol when he flipped back the cowl of his cloak.

"Silence," he said as they bowed. "You have not seen me."

"Seen who, lord?" the young officer said brashly, grinning -- this was the Lady's Festival, after all.

Isketerol smiled and nodded, noting the youth's face; you could always use a man who thought quickly on his feet. The little party passed through the thick sea-wall made of warehouses joined end-to-end, out onto the broad paved quayside and the long wharves with their cast-iron bollards. A leafless forest of mast and spar and rigging lifted against the bright stars and crescent moon, and that light and the lanterns atop the wall reflected from the rippling waters. A creak and groan of timber sounded through the night, wind in the tracework of rigging, call of a watchman, the sound of waves slapping like wet hands at the planking of hulls. There was a thick smell of the sea, of brackish water and tar, bilges and cargoes. Most of the ships here were large three-masters from the royal yards, well-gunned, the ships that had scoured the western end of the Middle Sea clean of pirates and rivals and gone venturing to the ends of the earth.

Where the cursed Amurrukan don't forbid, he thought with a scowl.

Who were the Nantucketers on their little island to declare whole continents taboo to all but themselves? Before the war began their traders and sailors walked through the streets of Taressos in lordly wise, looked down on his people's ways and customs, refused to trade machinery and skills he needed to build the Kingdom. As if they strove to make that lying history they'd shown him true, a future in which Tartessos was forgotten, less than legend, a few broken pots and shards. It was intolerable! He'd struck them a hard blow this spring, come close to taking the Island itself, but they'd beaten his force off with heavy losses. Now his spies said they were planning a counterstrike of their own.

Let them come, and we'll give them a warm welcome -- warm as the Crone's boiling cauldron, he thought grimly. They were strong in knowledge, but few in numbers. What was that saying Will liked? Ah, yes: 'quantity has a quality all its own'. Taressos held most of Iberia now, and the lands south across the Pillars.

Achaean guards waited at the gangplanks of the three big eastern vessels that had brought Odikweos; they cried him hail, raising their rifles. Isketerol looked keenly at those; they were the new type he'd heard of, that took cartridges of brass instead of paper and needed no flintlock or priming pan. The Greek underking saw the direction of his eyes and smiled as they took the ladder into the ship's hold.

It was a big vessel with three masts; they passed down through the gun-deck into the hold. That stretched dim and shadowy as the guard lifted his lantern behind them, showing boxes and bales piled high; the air was still, with odd metallic scents under the stale odor of the bilge.

"Here," the Achaean said, and pulled back a tarpaulin.

Despite himself, Isketerol gave an exclamation of delight. The cannon squatting in a timber cradle was of the type called Dahlgren, shaped like a wine-flask, swollen thick at the breech end and falling away to a gracefully slim barrel further out, just past the trunnions. They could take a heavier charge of powder, and hurl a larger ball further and harder than simple tapered metal tubes such as his Makers had learned to fashion... as his fleet had found to its cost, in the abortive invasion of the Republic. And these were poured steel, lighter and stronger than the cast iron his makers had been forced to use until recently.

"Eighty 8-inch steel Dahlgrens," Odikweos said. "Twenty 9-inch, ten 11-inch. Ammunition. And sample patterns and moulds for all, and for the boring and turning engines, and a dozen technicians trained in the art."

He handed a printed book to the Iberian monarch. It was in Achaean -- mostly in Achaean, with many words from the Amurrukan tongue of Nantucket, English. Isketerol spoke Greek well, and had learned how it was written in the new Islander alphabet. He flipped quickly through the volume. It held exact instructions for steel converter work, and for pouring and working heavy castings. Mingled gratitude and bitterness spread through him. If he had had this years ago...

Odikweos might have read his thought. "Lord Cuddy, the High King's Master of Engineers, says that much of this is the result of his own seeking," he said. "To make the... what's the word... Bessemer converter work properly required much experiment." That last word was perforce English as well. "And our third ship carries a hundred tons of the manganese you will need, from the mines in Messine. Also a hundred tons of sulfur from Sicily for your gunpowder mills. More of that will follow, as much as you can use."

"That is good," Isketerol said. The sulfur will be very useful. It is not necessary that William know that my spies in Nantucket found out about the manganese, and the mines of it in my own Black Mountains. "Of course, in return for such kingly gifts, I will give royal gifts in return, for my honor's sake." What hypocrites we Kings must be. "What is it that my brother needs?"

"Quicksilver, as much as you can spare," Odikweos said. "If you have the mines working again."

"Better than ever," Isketerol lied smoothly. After all, William does not need to know where it comes from, so long as I can deliver it.

"And more raw cotton."

"The harvest has been excellent -- "

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